John Clay: With six down, how will Cats fare against the next half-dozen?

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistOctober 12, 2013 

After four straight games against top 20 teams, finishing with the nation's No. 1 team, we know the water is deep, the river is wide and for Kentucky football it's a long, long way to the other side.

If we didn't know that before, we certainly know that now.

Top-ranked Alabama put the exclamation mark on that Saturday night at Commonwealth Stadium, dominating Mark Stoops and Kentucky 48-7 in a game that wasn't really as close as the margin on the scoreboard.

Alabama gained a grand total of 668 yards, the most total yards compiled against a Kentucky defense since Tennessee and Peyton Manning gained 695 way back in 1997.

On the flip side, the Kentucky offense gained just 170 yards, that's two yards short of being 500 less than the Tide.

"It wasn't pretty," said Stoops afterward.

You didn't expect it to be pretty, of course. Alabama has won three national titles in the past four years, including the last two back-to-back. Nick Saban is the best coach in the business. He has the best talent in the business, NFL-ready talent.

Stoops is just getting started. This was his sixth game in a Kentucky program that won two games last year, and zero in the SEC. The Cats were a 27-point underdog.

And yet, given the way UK had at least been respectable in losses to Louisville and Florida and rallied to put a scare into South Carolina in Columbia last week, you thought it might have been a little closer than what it turned out to be.

"I just felt like it was uphill for us all night," Stoops said.

It was a 41-point loss to a team that fumbled the football away twice in the first quarter, the first inside the Kentucky 20, the second at UK's one-yard line.

"We got the fumbles," Stoops said, "but they were still moving the ball."

On offense, starting quarterback Jalen Whitlow went out with an ankle injury on UK's second offensive possession, just its sixth offensive play. The home team had crafted its game plan, especially its run game, around Whitlow's feet and what he can do running the football.

"Max (Smith) got very few live reps this week," offensive coordinator Neal Brown said afterward of his backup quarterback who was pressed into duty. "It was a tough situation to put Max into."

To be sure, this was a tough stretch for the entire team — Louisville followed by Florida followed by South Carolina followed by Alabama.

"This was a brutal stretch, we all knew that," Brown said. "We're beat up right now."

And as you might expect, Alabama administered the most brutal beating, by score, by sheer physicality and, no doubt, to the young Cats' confidence.

"This is the halfway point of the season," Brown said. "We've start a new season."

Stoops and Company get a dozen days off before Kentucky travels to Mississippi State, when the schedule, while far from easy, at least becomes a little more reasonable. It's a welcome rest.

The question now is, after seeing just how big of a gap Kentucky faces against the best, how will the Cats fare against the rest?

"We had been doing some good things," said defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot, "but not tonight."

"I told our guys," Stoops said, "we've got to hold ourselves to a higher standard."

But isn't Alabama the highest standard in all of college football right now? The Tide seem more machine than mere men. Saban's club just grinds the opponent down, yard by yard, bit by bit.

Stoops seemed a bit beat up himself in the post-game news conference.

"I think we're making progress, but I don't think anybody cares," said the coach. "The record is what it is."

And then the Kentucky coach said something else.

"We will compete in this second half of the season," Stoops said. "There's no place to hide. You've got to man-up."

John Clay: (859) 231-3226. Email: Twitter: @johnclayiv. Blog:

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